/ Dr. Gail Gross

Parents may be cracking under the holiday pressure

December 2, 2015
Parents may be cracking under the holiday pressure

Mission: Accomplished

Don’t get in the way of a parent looking to get a hot holiday gift for their kid.

Nearly one in 10 parents with children under 18 admit they’d knock down another person to get the last remaining hot holiday gift, according to a survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of analytics firm FusionOps. That’s compared with just 3% of adults without children.

They’re also more willing than non-parents to lie to other shoppers (17% vs. 8%), cut in line (16% vs. 8%), pretend to be a store clerk (16% vs. 5%) and even trip an elderly person (7% vs. 2%) to score that hard-to-get present.

“The search for the perfect gift for a child conjures up images of Harrison Ford movies like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’,” says advice columnist and relationship expert April Masini.

No, parents haven’t gone mad, it’s simply that we’re under pressure to make the holidays extra special for the kids, experts say. “Buying our child the perfect gift has its roots in the best of intentions,” says psychologist Jude Miller Burke. “But we get confused between love and material things.”

Many parents feel guilty about missing out on kids’ events or about not getting enough time with the kids during the year due to work, and so they focus on making the holidays extra special (and filled with the “perfect” gifts), says Masini.

Americans — millions of whom are parents — now work an average of 47 hours a week with nearly one in five people who are employed full time putting in more than 60 hours a week. And it’s now more likely that both parents are working (double the guilt!): While roughly half of moms in the early ’70s were stay-at-home mothers, just about one in three are today.

Another issue may come from the pressure of social norms, says Vassilis Dalakas, a professor of marketing at California State University San Marcos. “Social media and especially Facebook have created an environment where parents can share (essentially a euphemism for ‘boast’) about the awesome gifts they give their children while posting multiple pictures of the gift along with comments and pictures communicating the child’s excitement for the gift,” she says. “Inevitably, this creates some pressures on other parents to make similar efforts for the gifts they will be getting their children to ‘keep up’ with what the other ‘cool’ parents do.”

Some parents also yearn to be the one that gives their child the gift he likes most. “The pressure is finding gifts that excite the recipient so that their perceptions of us (and feelings toward us) are enhanced in a positive way,” says Dalakas. “This is especially relevant for cases where there is the ability for the child to make comparisons,” she says — like mom got me X awesome gift, while grandma got me X less-awesome gift.

Another issue in this present-mania may be that many parents project their own childhood issues, such as not fitting in, onto their kids, says family and child development expert Gail Gross. ”We don’t want them to feel left out or bullied or made fun of,” she says — and parents think that the “right” holiday gifts might help them fit in better with their peers.

Finally, Gross notes that some parents feel that their kids are a reflection of themselves, which can extend into what the child owns. For example, a child with the brand-new iPad may signal to other parents that mom and dad are well-to-do, which may matter to a status-conscious family.

Whatever the reasons for this immense present pressure, one thing is clear: It’s costing American families a ton. Parents report that they spend $271 per child on holiday gifts, with 1 in 10 saying they shell out $500 and up, according to a survey of 6,000 parents by and Considering that the average family has two children, holiday gift spending just on the kids can easily top $500 for the average household.

To stop the incessant present pressure, parents should think about what kinds of lessons all the pricey presents are passing along to their children, experts say. Use holiday gifting to “figure out your own values, so you can pass them on to your kids and family members,” says Masini. “This isn’t just a lesson in retail, it’s a morality tale you get to write.”

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